Yves Klein
Year, Birthplace 1928, France
Year, Place of death 1962, France
Both of Yves Klein’s parents were painters: his father, Fred Klein, was a figurative painter while his mother, Marie Raymond, was an abstract painter. His first passion was judo, which for him was a primordial experience of ‘spiritual’ space. In 1947-1948, he developed a project for a monotone-silence symphony, a musical composition featuring a single tone followed by a long silence. Together with his friend Claude Pascal, he also became interested in the Rosicrucian doctrine of order. After completing his military service Klein went to London, where he created some monochromes on paper and card, using pastels and gouache. He also worked in a framing workshop and learnt making gilt woodwork, which he would use later. He then went to Ireland, Spain, and Japan, where he enrolled at the Tokyo Kodakan Institute, the most prestigious judo centre. After staying there for fifteen months, he gained his fourth dan black belt and reached the highest level in Europe. Back in Paris in 1954, he faced the distrust of the professional and institutional world of judo despite the publication of his book Les Fondements du Judo [The Fundamentals of Judo]. He left France again for Spain, where he published two compilations of monochromes, Yves Peintures and Haguenault Peintures. Returning to France in 1955, he proposed an orange monochrome entitled Expression de l’Univers de la Coleur Mine Orange [Expression of the Universe in the Colour Lead Orange] for the Salon des Réalités Nouvelles [New Realities Salon], which turned his work down. He exhibited his first monochrome at the Club des Solitaires in the Lacoste Editions private galleries at the end of that year. It was there that he met Pierre Restany, an encounter that would subsequently prove to be significant. The art critic wrote a radical and provocative text on Klein’s next exhibition, at the Galerie Colette Allendy in 1956, where he presented his first blue monochromes, an ultramarine deep blue materializing the infinite expanse of the universe. He had recently developed a technique that allowed him to retain the full force of the pigment, in spite of the oil binder (the colour pigment included ultramarine blue and a binder consisting of pure ethyl alcohol, ethyl acetate and a polyvinyl acetate prepared by Rhône-Poulenc industries and distributed under the name Rhodopas MA). Shortly afterwards, on 19 May 1960, Yves Klein patented the formula for the blue he had created under the name International Klein Blue (IKB). In 1957, Klein exhibited eleven blue monochromes at the Apollinaire gallery in Milan. The exhibitions of blue monochromes, which were followed by pink and gold works (Monogold, panels covered with fine gold, 1960-1961), were presented at the Iris Clert galleries and the Colette Allendy gallery (which showed the first Immatériel – Intangible – a completely empty room) in Paris, Düsseldorf and London, where the exhibited works caused a scandal. His works appeared thick and fast: the decoration of the new Gelsenkirchen Opera House; the trial lighting in blue of the obelisk in Concorde Square, which was rejected; the first trial of the living-brush technique; work with sponges; a collaboration with Jean Tinguely for their joint exhibition at the Iris Clert gallery in November 1958; and working with the architect Claude Parent on the project Fontaines d’Eau et Feu [Sources of Water and Fire]; the sale of Zones de Sensibilité Picturale Immatérielle [Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility Zones] in 1959. Also in 1959, at the first Biennale de Paris, Pierre Restany presented a large blue monochrome in the selection of works proposed by the jury of young critics. Tinguely, Raymond Hains, Jacques Villeglé and François Dufrêne were also part of this selection, which was an essential step in the formation of the New Realists group. On 23 February, at his own home, he resumed his experiments with paint brush-women in Célébration d'une Nouvelle Ère Anthropométrique [Celebration of a New Anthropometric Era] , which was followed by Anthropométries de l'Époque Bleue [Blue Season Anthropometries] on 9 March 1960 at the International Art Gallery, Rue Saint-Honore, Paris. The latter event featured three naked young women, whose actions he directed, and a string orchestra performing his symphony monotone-silence in the presence of an audience dressed in evening clothes. In April that year, Klein participated in the exhibition Les Nouveaux Réalistes [The New Realists] at the Apollinaire gallery in Milan, alongside Arman, Hains, Dufrêne, Villeglé and Tinguely. In the foreword to the catalogue, Pierre Restany used the term ‘new realism’ for the first time. The group’s founding statement was made at his home on 27 October 1960. In 1961, a retrospective show at the Haus Lange Museum in Krefeld, Germany, made it possible to measure the influence of Yves Klein’s research in so few years. He then worked on the effects of fire on various types of support. On 12 May 1962, at the Cannes Film Festival, Yves Klein attended the showing of Gualtiero Jacopeti’s Mondo Cane. He felt deeply hurt by the unfair way in which he was portrayed in the film and by its approach to his research, despite all the support he had provided to the director. That same night, he showed signs of having suffered a heart attack. He died shortly afterwards, on 6 June, at the age of thirty-four. AC